What Would Gary Gygax Do? – Tim Cundle & Rachel Evans (Earth Island Books)

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I’ve commented previously on the awkwardness of reviewing friends’ work and it’s an even stranger proposition to review a book in which you yourself are a character (albeit a minor one) but I’ll do my best to be objective about this, Cundle’s second book to date.

Unlike the author’s previous novel (the dark, compelling ‘Compression’), ‘WWGGD?’ is a series of short autobiographical tales. Like Cundle’s beloved Hardcore Punk, the anecdotes are terse, stabbing, visceral episodes that boil with frustration, anger, regret and thankfully humour – albeit not in equal measure. Each illustrated with a beautifully executed pictorial summary of the story by the talented Rachel Evans (who also did the artwork for ‘Compression’). The book also features a short graphic story by Tim, illustrated by one of Mass Movement’s early contributors Jethro Wall and Midori Kamba.

Much like Henry Rollins, Cundle’s writing style at time borders on stream of conscious rambling and occasionally the desire to express his internal rage results in a few muddled points (‘Pharmaceutical Evolution’ and ‘Mummy What Does God Look Like?’ for example), but overwhelmingly the author expresses his emotions and recollections in an unflinchingly honest fashion, particularly in the most autobiographical stories such as ‘Sex , Guns and Rock n Roll’ in which Cundle questions the part he played as a Summer Camp instructor teaching American teens how to shoot guns, the painful recollection of missing a hospital appointment to visit his terminal ill father, in order to play a festival slot – rescheduled several time by the organisers to accommodate two tedious hippy bands, and the significant long term impact of bullying on Tim in his early years, the rawness of which Tim still feels and which is a particularly affecting segment of the book.

There are numerous tales of Tim’s time as a member of Charlies Family Crisis, a band he and I were part of from its inception in 1991 to its limping conclusion six years later. Despite the narratives being filled with a sense of failure, defeat and frequent frustration with the Llantrisant Hippies who provided us with rehearsal space and the lion’s share of the bands’ (unpaid) gigs, I must admit that reading about those events brought a wry smile to my face, and will to any man, woman or child who has ever participated in the Hardcore Punk scene with its unpaid gigs – often in ridiculous venues (such a barn on top of a Welsh mountain), zero audience members and disappointing recording output. The band anecdotes display some of the contrary and changing beliefs/attitudes of the author throughout his life, as despite vowing never to engage in a  band again following the CFC debacle, Cundle finds himself fronting another Hardcore band AxTxOxT several years later, finding that little has changed in the intervening years.

Despite the book overwhelmingly dealing with Tim’s darker life experiences there are occasional tales of drunken hilarity and humour such as ‘The Criminal High Life’ in which Tim reminisces on the occasion when he and fellow Summer Camp Counsellor Doug attempt to enter Canada with an illicit supply of cigarettes. Although few and far between, these humorous interludes provide a welcome respite from the often rather bleak worldview that Tim espouses, and it is to be hoped that in writing ‘WWGGD?’ Tim has hopefully exorcised a few ghosts from his pas,t and used the book as an alternative and more rewarding catharsis to playing in a band.

An excellent follow up to ‘Compression’, which possibly indicates that Cundle’s true calling as a writer rests in real life observation rather than fiction and a book that anyone who enjoys autobiographical tales, ala Henry Rollins, will enjoy. It’s also a lot of fun trying to spot the Hardcore lyrics that Tim has peppered throughout the book. Ian Pickens

Order What Would Gary Gygax Do? here 

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